SEATTLE — No doubt about it, before their game Sunday night with the Denver Broncos, the Seattle Seahawks certainly looked more like a team in trouble than a team in the playoffs.
So what the heck was the problem?
It was rookie linebacker Brian Bosworth and his funky hair, combing the countryside for somebody to tackle. No, surely it was up-and-down quarterback Dave Krieg, other Seattle-watchers said. Some pinned the problem on the coach, Chuck Knox, and his conservative offense, known around here as Ground Chuck.
Angry Seahawk fans were making mincemeat out of Ground Chuck. The new Puget Sound was a boo.
But before a gathering of 61,759 in the Kingdome, the Seahawks might have changed some minds as well as the AFC playoff picture. They survived a 335-yard evening of passing by John Elway, knocked off the Broncos, 28-21, and stayed alive in the AFC West.
Denver (8-4-1) still leads, but Seattle (8-5) is closer now and tied with San Diego. Next week, the Seahawks have to play the Bears in Chicago while Denver plays Kansas City at home.
Even if the gap between them may be widening soon, the Seahawks actually looked like some kind of Broncoholic in beating Denver. Shock of shocks, guess how those old conservative Seahawks scored the go-ahead touchdown.
Would you believe a flea-flicker? You wouldn't? Neither did the Broncos, who had just climbed back from a 14-0 halftime deficit to tie the game on a 39-yard touchdown pass from Elway to wide receiver Rick Massie.
By then, it looked as though the Seahawks might be folding. Center Blair Bush broke his right hand and on the first snap from his replacement, Grant Feasel botched the snap to Krieg and the ball was fumbled over to the Broncos.
One play later, Elway found Massie in the end zone.
Was Knox worried? You bet.
"That malfunction almost spelled disaster," Knox said.
Perhaps Ground Chuck was thinking about the Sunday morning letter-writers, who spelled perfectly in their somewhat florid tones to the local newspapers about what was wrong with the Seahawks. Here is an example:
"They need to turn their drool into froth and become vicious, rabid dogs chasing the very last rabbit on this earth."
Kind of makes you get all warm inside, doesn't it?
Anyway, with the score tied, Knox called for a flea-flicker with the ball eventually winding up in Ray Butler's hands across the goal line after Krieg threw it 40 yards to get it there.
There were three handoffs before the ball got past the line of scrimmage. It began innocently enough with Krieg handing off to Curt Warner, who was running right. Warner handed off to Steve Largent going the other way and then Largent pitched the ball back to Krieg on his way past.
All Krieg had to do was not look too excited to see Butler in the end zone waiting to catch the ball, which he did again (his 3-yard touchdown catch in the second quarter put Seattle ahead, 14-0) and the Seahawks seemed to have collected themselves again, 21-14.
After a 25-yard Bronco punt, Krieg needed to take the Seahawks only 38 yards to score again, this time on their first possession of the fourth quarter when a 7-yard pass from Krieg to John L. Williams made the score, 28-14.
Krieg finished with 23 completions in 33 attempts for 238 yards and three touchdowns. He also had two interceptions to short-circuit a couple of early drives.
Elway, who had two passes intercepted in a lackluster Bronco first half (four first downs), ended with 21 completions in 42 attempts after going 7 for 15 during the first two quarters.
Elway calls his receivers 'The Three Amigos,' but this time he was down to Dos Amigos. The missing amigo was one of his favorite targets, Vance Johnson, who sat out because of a pulled hamstring.
The Broncos actually did themselves in on a fourth-quarter drive when they spent seven minutes, three seconds and failed to score. Trailing by 14 with 12:34 left, the Broncos were still down by 14 with 5:31 to go when they finally lost the ball on downs at the Seahawk 19.
Elway drove the Broncos 84 yards in 12 plays in the last two minutes and Sammy Winder's 1-yard plunge made it 28-21, but that was hardly enough to console Coach Dan Reeves, who watched his team get only 72 yards rushing.
"I hate to lose games like this," he said. "We didn't do the job offensively. Two or three first half first downs (actually four) doesn't cut it. The offense failed to control the ball."